Welcome. The Cleveland Indians are about to partake in the 2018 MLB postseason and you may feel unprepared. Hey, we get it.1 The Cavaliers took your attention April through June. After LeBron James spurned the team (again), you needed to get in some summer fun. Then, before you knew it, school and work filled up your calendar again. Maybe you even were hypnotized by Hue Jackson’s team becoming entertainingly competitive despite their inability to finish games. Besides, a dominant double-digit division lead for much of the season meant you knew Tribe October baseball was an eventuality.
Lucky for you the consistent theme for the Tribe has been Rally Together, and Trevor Bauer can use the support to fight Houston twitter trolls on social media.2 If the Indians have to face the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees in the ALCS, then every single person available in Northeast Ohio might be needed to shout down their loud, obnoxious fans.
You missed an incredible journey. The Indians took first place on April 21 and never relinquished it. Not for a single day. After winning back-to-back walk-off games against the second-place Minnesota Twins on August 8 and 9, the team was never less than 11 games up. Michael Brantley is now healthy as he played 143 games. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez somehow became even better versions of the players they were in 2017. The bullpen was terrifying early on, but after a huge mid-season traded of a player Baseball Prospectus had once tabbed the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball (Francisco Mejia), the relievers put out more fires than they started themselves.
With that, we felt it would be best to give you all a one-stop shop for everything you need to know about the Indians to help yourself sound like one of the cool kids that watched all 162 regular season games. Or, at the very least, enough crib notes to fake it.
Be forewarned: Since you can look up the stats, we’re going to stick to the narratives.
AL Cy Young Award
Whew. What a year for this award. Chris Sale looked unassailable until he missed a good chunk of the season, which opened the door for Trevor Bauer to become the fourth Indians starter to win the award over the last 11 seasons. An unfortunate line drive off his shin ended his chances prematurely, which has left the top spot to a battle between the Astros Justin Verlander and Chris Sale (who didn’t qualify enough innings to be considered a leader in any category by MLB standards).
Do not let it be lost that the Indians still finished with four of the Top 9 AL pitchers in fWAR and should have two-to-three finish in the Top 5 of the AL Cy Young Award voting. Corey Kluber (2.89 ERA / 3.12 FIP), Carlos Carrasco (3.38 / 2.94), Trevor Bauer (2.21, 2.44) and Mike Clevinger (3.02 / 3.52) make for a dominant rotation. Oh, they are also the first set of four starters for one team to each finish with over 200 strikeouts in MLB history.
AL MVP Award
Jose Ramirez was stating his case loudly through the first four months of the season. Unfortunately, the season is six months long, which has seen J-Ram in a significant slump. Even with the slow finish, both Ramirez and Francisco Lindor should slide into the Top 5 of the voting after posting fantastic seasons.
AL ROY Award
While the Indians don’t have anyone in the Rookie of the Year race, they are relying on several rookies for their postseason run. Greg Allen will play a significant role in center field. Shane Bieber has much better peripherals than his ERA indicates and won’t be used a third-time through the order in October in his new relief role, which is where he has struggled the most. Adam Cimber could provide key innings or match up plays.
AL MOY Award
The Tribe was considered strong favorites in the AL Central and won the division going away. As such, manager Terry Francona will not be in consideration for the award though he still deserves a hearty hat-tip for continuing to finish at or above expectations (see: Washington Nationals for the opposite). Francona also finishes above .500 as he has done every single year he has managed the Indians.
The Tribe is now 545-425 under Terry Francona making it the second-best ever six-year start to a managerial career in Cleveland to Hall of Famer Al Lopez (1951-1956, 570-354) and more wins than the best six-year stretch for Mike Hargrove with a higher Indians managerial winning percentage overall.3
AL EOY Award
Again, the status of meeting expectations will not garner many votes for this award. The front office also appeared to have some blips over the offseason in the evaluation of the outfield and bullpen. The in-season moves worked out much better as they acquired Brad Hand, Adam Cimber, Josh Donaldson, and Leonys Martin. Each move has helped to some degree though Martin’s quick health demise was unfortunate; though certainly not a fault of evaluation (more on Martin below).
Roberto Clemente Award
Carrasco could win this award for the team every single year. For 2018 though, let’s highlight Bauer’s philanthropic efforts as he dedicated $420.69 each day for 69 days to different charities he crowd-sourced from fans and industry people. A good use of some of the money he won in arbitration.
Clevinger also had some great fan interaction with regards to donating to charity.
Answering the Important Questions
Can any other team match up with the Tribe’s rotation?
The current iteration of the Indians is unmatched in terms of quality, depth, and health. However, the Houston Astros happen to be the only team whose top three starters (Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel) can claim similar excellence with Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers being quite capable. It is not hyperbole to state the ALDS will feature one of the greatest postseason rotation battles in history.
What is going on with Yan Gomes?
In a meaningless game near the end of the regular season, Gomes’ throwing hand met the backswing of Alex Gordon’s bat. Profuse bleeding and deep bruising were had. After some stitches, the hope is that Gomes will be able to still catch and hit in the ALDS, but there might be reason to worry about a repeat of the Bauer against the Blue Jays incident as the stitches could rupture (MLB rules are less stringent on hitters than they are pitchers, so he might be OK.).
(Squinting) Hey, who is that bearded man in center field? He looks like Jason Kipnis.
If you haven’t followed the Indians since last October, then nothing has changed. If you missed the last couple months though, then, yes, Kipnis is back in center field. An injury to Bradley Zimmer, an illness taking Martin out of the season (wait for it, it’s below still), and Allen not quite being ready to assume full-time duties put Kipnis back in center field once the Tribe traded for Donaldson.
I can’t stand it. What happened with Leonys Martin?
Players have been wearing LM13 on their ballcaps since the team revealed why Martin had to step away from the team after a fantastic six-game stretch after the Indians traded for the much-needed center fielder. A bacterial infection entered his bloodstream and threatened his life. He remained hospitalized in the Cleveland Clinic for several days and the initial communications were more about his overall health for life without any thought to a rehabilitation for baseball purposes. He is expected to make a full recovery now, but, as you enjoy the baseball postseason, join WFNY by keeping Martin and his family in your prayers.
Wait! What now? Josh Donaldson?!? Like THE Josh Donaldson?
Why yes, Donaldson is now a member of the Cleveland Indians. He is on an expiring contract and the Toronto Blue Jays were not going to make the postseason, so they traded him while they could still obtain assets in return. The other AL teams threw quite the fit too because Donaldson just made it back in time from a strained calf to be eligible to be traded. I am sure that fans of the Indians will feel quite bad for those teams that signed or traded for big money players such as J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander, and Giancarlo Stanton over the last year.
Can I have a quick-hitter on the other main lineup contributors you haven’t mentioned much in case someone asks me?
- Edwin Encarnacion: 32 parrot trots and counting in 2018. More interestingly, Encarnacion has the most stolen bases without having been caught on the team.4
- Roberto Perez: Robo has fallen apart since his 2016 postseason heroics. Over the last three seasons (642 PA), he is now slashing .188/.278/.315, 57 OPS+ (none of those seasons above .300 in OBP). In 2018, of all MLB players w/ at least 200 PA, he was fourth worst in wRC+ (40). Still can frame the ball with the best of them though.
- Yonder Alonso: No one man can replace Carlos Santana. Alonso has issues against left-handed pitching and some defensive inconsistencies. However, Francona was platooning him with Diaz down the stretch and it was working.
- Yandy Diaz: Enter Diaz. His groundball percentage dropped six percent as his average launch angle went up over four percent. Baby steps, but Diaz was an above average hitter due to it and an important piece for the Tribe’s October chances.
- Michael Brantley: Healthy again, Dr. Smooth has quietly been destroying the baseball over his last 33 games (.341/.393/.485).
- Melky Cabrera: Cabrera was bad enough early to be designated for assignment with no takers (remember, in 2016 even Michael Martinez was signed by another team before coming back). He eventually returned and demonstrated his ability to be a professional bat.
- Brandon Guyer: Same guy you remember. Pay no attention to his overall regular season stats as he was forced to hit against right-handed pitching too often. He still rakes against southpaws (.233/.358/.447).
- Rajai Davis: Not the same guy you remember. Relegated to pinch-running and late-inning defensive substitutions now.
What about the other bullpen guys?
- Cody Allen: Allen isn’t the untouchable closer from a couple seasons ago. Tribe hopes he has enough left in the tank to get through one more postseason.
- Andrew Miller: Injuries have sapped Miller from his invincible aura. There are times he appears to be the Miller of old… but decreased velocity gives hitters a fighting chance.
- Brad Hand: Possibly the most important player the front office acquired during the season. He will be tested often as these three relievers, plus Bieber and Bauer will need to handle the vast majority of relief innings.
- Dan Otero: The magic is gone and he shouldn’t be trusted in high leverage situations.
- Oliver Perez: Another mid-tier reliever whom fans might be wise to take some antacids as he warms up.
What was the best outside the chalk stories of the season?
- A year after playing for their country in the World Baseball Classic, Francisco Lindor and Roberto Perez were granted the opportunity of playing regular season MLB games in their native Puerto Rico (reader submission: Jacob).
- Jose Ramirez takes on all-comers including journalists in his quest to prove himself the most dominant MarioKart player around (reader submission: Mitch).
- Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger create MLB’s version of the odd couple as they bond over pitching (reader submission: Alison).
Where can I get more detailed information about some of these topics? And who are all these other guys writing for WFNY about the Indians?
WFNY has become the place to follow the Cleveland Indians postseason as there is just a wealth of information and a ton of content. For what could be a special run, Mike Hattery, Gage Will, Jim Pete, Joe Gerberry, Jay Cannon, and myself will guide you along the way- perhaps with some guest authors as well. We hope to have a wide range with our style of coverage so that we can fit any need or desire you might have for following the Tribe’s October.
Go, Tribe, Go!
Here’s a quick sample of what you can expect (along with some more in-depth info):
- Indians postseason lineup optimization
- Jose Ramirez; hitting savant
- Yonder Alonso, Carlos Santana, and the cost per win fallacy
- Trevor Bauer: AL Cy Young frontrunner
- Carlos Carrasco: underappreciated with a side of breaking balls
- Displacing Kipnis: Making room for Josh Donaldson
- Anatomy of an Andrew Miller outing
- Ballad of Jose Ramirez
- Brad Hand and Adam Cimber fortify the bullpen
- A bullpen built for October
- Mike Clevinger: All-Star worthy pitcher
- Dying relationship between a Little Cowboy and the Indians
- The postseason case for Greg Allen
- What to expect from Melky Cabrera
- Indians October bullpen blueprint
- A look into the mind of a fan lost at midseason
- I was wrong: Jose Ramirez has always been good
- Yonder Alonso in the Nick Swisher Zone
- 2017 Indians Bandwagon Guide; 2016 Indians Bandwagon Guide [↩]
- Why yes, Bauer did get into several online fights with Houston fans after insinuating that some pitchers utilize foreign substances to increase spin rates and someone else pointed to the Astros as a prime example of pitchers spin rates jumping just after they acquire them. [↩]
- His last six years as Indians manager were 1994 to 1999. Hargrove had a better winning percentage during that specific set, but the MLB strike meant he only achieved 537 wins. [↩]
- Editor’s note: he is tied for that designation, actually, with Erik Gonzalez. [↩]